Searching for Hobgoblins in All the Wrong Places

H.L. Menken once observed ”the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed… by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” That certainly describes EPA’s approach to regulation. There is nothing too small or insignificant to escape its heavy handed regulation.

The Obama administration might as well be an honorary member of the EU because whatever it does, philosophically, economically, or with its energy or regulatory policy, the administration is sure to follow. The EU attempted an emissions tax on all flights to and from Europe. The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization opposed it because it planned to design its own cap and trade program for airlines. But, the EU stands ready to impose its tax if it isn’t satisfied by whatever the UN organization proposes.

The experience with the Waxman-Markey cap and trade program a few years ago should make everyone very wary of the UN initiative. Even though the US is working with other nations on emission standards for commercial aircraft, EPA wants to blaze its own trail and in doing so single handedly drive up the cost of air travel.

The whole rationale for regulating airline contrails is the long held but false belief that greenhouse gas emissions will cause temperatures to rise which will then cause adverse climate changes. This theory has been undermined by a 17-year hiatus in warming and scientific facts concerning CO2s warming effect. Nonetheless, climate orthodoxy believers adhere to their theory with a death grip and just ignore reality and science. If the facts do not conform to its theory and models, clearly the facts must be wrong.

A recent NOVA occasional article by Peter Tyson identified one big problem with beginning a regulatory initiative. “Whether contrails cause a net cooling or a net warming, even whether their effect is something to worry about within the greater general concern about climate change, remains unclear.” According to IPCC calculations, aviation’s contribution to total emissions are estimated at 3% but could be as low as 2% or as high as 8%. That is quite a range of uncertainty and is consistent with the IPCC’s acknowledgement that knowledge about cloud formation is low.

Professor Andrew Carleton of Penn State has written that contrails “can extend the natural cirrus cover,” … “And unlike most clouds, cirrus tend to warm the surface overall because they trap heat more than they reflect the Sun’s radiation.” This view is challenged by another scientist who states, “While the effect of contrails in low humidity atmosphere may be something to think about… The water vapor trails only occur in a saturated, or near saturated environment, as witnessed by their presence being almost entirely limited to regions where cirrus clouds are present, or to regions in close proximity to cirrus clouds. … (In) such an environment, the water vapor and/or ice crystals already present are most likely absorbing a good deal of the IR radiation that would be absorbed by contrails in a dry environment. Therefore the increase of absorption is certainly quite limited.” Peter Tyson in his NOVA piece also stated, “For a long time, scientists didn’t even have a baseline … Studying contrails has always been difficult. They’re high in the sky and either so fleeting that they’re gone in minutes or so persistent that dozens or even hundreds can crisscross one another, making the study of individual contrails to get a baseline all but impossible.”

Given the extensive uncertainty about cloud formation and the effect of contrails on cirrus clouds, it should be clear that there is no reasonable foundation for an endangerment finding or a rule making. But, that hasn’t stopped this EPA from acting in ways that raise the cost of energy to consumers and business. The economy cannot get above anemic growth and low job creation as long as the heavy hand of government is holding it back.

What we are observing with this Administration is reminiscent of the adage that if it moves tax it, if it still moves regulate it, and if it stops moving subsidize it. But, it is unlikely that there would be subsidies that involve fossil fuels.

This article appeared on the National Journal’s Energy Insiders weblog at

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